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Canton Restaurant is emblematic of something that I’ve found over my time trying to discover everything that Little Saigon has to offer, which is that Chinese influence is fairly prevalent in Vietnamese cuisine.
Canton Restaurant specializes in two dishes, one is completely Chinese and the other is completely Vietnamese. The specialties I’m speaking of are Cantonese-style fish porridge (congee) and Vietnamese cha ca thang long, which is turmeric fish with dill.
I did a little research on Wikipedia and turns out ~1% of Vietnam’s population is Chinese, but it is significantly higher in some bigger cities, making up ~6% of Ho Chi Minh City’s population. As it turns out the main Chinese ethnicities are Cantonese and secondarily Teochew. All of this seems to jive with what I see when I visit Little Saigon as all of the Chinese-Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon are either serving Cantonese or Teochew food. I really like the combination of Chinese and Vietnamese food as they complement each other very well.
The restaurant looks like a typical Little Saigon restaurant meaning it has no décor to speak of. Like most Chinese-Vietnamese places everything is translated into Vietnamese, Chinese and English. The waitress was nice, however she didn’t really speak English although she seemed to sort of understand me when I spoke to her in Mandarin. However, the boss guy and boss lady were able to speak some Mandarin, I heard them speaking Cantonese and they obviously spoke Vietnamese as the entire customer base was Vietnamese except for us and one older Cantonese gentleman. It was an interesting communication experience, but they were pretty nice.
Anyhow, onto the food:
- Cha Ca Thang Long: This is white fish filets (not sure what type of fish) covered in turmeric powder and cooked on a cast iron skillet with onions and dill. It’s served with a plate of fresh vegetables (lettuce, mint, cilantro, lime, onions, jalapeno and peanuts), banh da (black sesame rice crackers), rice noodles and a fermented shrimp and fish sauce. The fish has a turmeric and dill flavor and also a smoky flavor from being on the skillet. The fish is very tender and not fishy at all. The seasonings are a little more heavy-handed than at Vien Dong, which is where I normally get this dish, but the rendition here is still excellent. The fermented shrimp and fish sauce is sweet, but has a fairly strong flavor to it; however, the version here is not as strong as at Vien Dong. The way I like to eat it is to wrap the fish, rice cracker, noodles and peanuts into a lettuce wrap and then dip it in the fermented shrimp and fish sauce. Overall, this was very good, I’d give Vien Dong a very slight nod on this dish because I feel like their version is more delicate, but it’s a close call. 8.25/10
- Fish Congee: Congee is simply rice that is cooked with a lot more water, so instead of getting the dry rice you normally see you end up getting a thick porridge. The congee itself is fairly plain tasting, but you add different meats and other condiments to it to give it flavor. It is usually eaten for breakfast and it’s sort of like Chinese chicken noodle soup in that people always want it when they are sick. You also eat it with you tiao, which is a long fried donut that you dip into the congee. The congee here is on the thick side and it tastes creamy, which is how it should taste. They are quite generous with the amount of fish they give you and the fish was very good; it was a white fish that wasn’t fishy tasting at all and the texture was very tender, but not mushy. They garnish it with ginger, scallions and cilantro, which really taste great with everything. I also like to put a healthy dose of white pepper into the soup. This tastes like classic excellent congee; this is comparable to what you find at a regular congee place in Hong Kong. The you tiao was decent although it wasn’t freshly fried, but the combo of you tiao and congee is a must for me. This is very much a comfort food for me and I don’t know if non-Chinese people will enjoy this as much as I do, but this was probably the best congee I’ve had in CA. 8.5/10
- Soda Chanh: Soda chanh is soda water, fresh lime and sugar mixed together. I think it’s one of the most refreshing drinks so I get it pretty much every time I get Vietnamese food. The version here was pretty decent, a little more of the lime flavor than most places, but still good. 7.75/10
Overall, I enjoyed the food here a lot. If you want fish congee or cha ca thang long, this is definitely a place you want to check out.